When Lightroom’s “Shadows” Slider Isn’t Enough…

This isn’t one of those tips that you’re going to use every day, but when you need it, it’s really an image-saver. It’s about bringing out shadow detail in a big way using a workaround that does take a few steps, but it’s super easy (after it all goes faster than you’d think). Here’s what we’re doing:



STEP ONE: Here’s the original image. The area in the foreground is pretty dark, so to open up that area, we reach for the Shadows slider.


STEP TWO: Here I cranked the Shadows slider all the way to +100, and it helped a little bit, but not nearly as much as I wanted. Kind of makes you miss the old Fill Light slider from back in Lightroom 3. While the underlying math behind it wasn’t nearly as good as the results we normally get from the Shadows slider in Lightroom 5, that old Fill Light slider would have opened these shadows up big time. If only there were a way to get that Fill Light slider back? 😉


STEP THREE: Make any other changes you want to this image and finish it off how you’d like it, then export this image (as a JPEG, TIFF, whatever you like) by pressing Command-E (PC: Ctrl-E) to bring up the Export window you see above.


STEP FOUR: Reimport this edited photo in Lightroom (as seen above).


STEP FIVE: In the Develop Module, go to the Camera Calibration panel and at the top where it says “Process” it will say 2012 (Current) which means you’re using the “new math” introduced in Lightroom 4. Click on that pop-up menu and choose 2010 to get the “old math” from back in Lightroom 3.


STEP SIX: Now scroll back up to the Basic panel and son-of-a-gun look at that — the old “Fill Light” slider from Lightroom 4 is back!!!! Drag that sucker over to the right (here I only dragged over to +53 and look at the difference! Again, this isn’t one you’re going to use every day, but when you really, really need those shadows opened up, it does the trick fast. Just a reminder: Do all your other edits before you save that JPEG and switch to the 2010 math, because the ‘new math” from 2012 is so much better overall, but at least it’s nice to know we can “go back in time” if we need to and our old friend “Fill Light” is still here. A before/after is shown below.


Hope you find that helpful (every once in a while). 🙂



P.S. Later today I’ll be announcing the 5 winners for the Jay Maisel book giveaway, so check back this afternoon 🙂






  1. Eric 19 February, 2015 at 14:12 Reply

    To me the image using the fill slider looks flat and washed out (lack of contrast). To each his own on how and why you tweak your photos. I have never had a problem using the tools in 2012 process. And I would not export the photo, just select 2010 process on the original photo.

  2. Jeff 27 January, 2015 at 15:22 Reply

    I see that LR6 will only be 64-bit so will the old processes still be available? Will this change mean more goodies up front or will it only be changes in the back?

  3. BitSlicer 26 January, 2015 at 09:07 Reply

    Would it be possible to get a copy of the original image? It would be interesting to try experimenting with other changes to the original image.

    What about bringing up Exposure first and then dropping down Highlights? Kind of a back way of doing the same thing, sort of.

  4. Liz 25 January, 2015 at 19:16 Reply

    I have found when I use an old preset where I used the fill light slider, when I apply that preset to a new image I am giving the fill slider as an option. I can change all other sliders to their original (or whatever) and use the fill light slider.

  5. hans haabereder 25 January, 2015 at 01:58 Reply

    There are several ways to this in addition to the one Scott mentioned. Raising exposure plus lowering highlights plus raising shadows is one as mentioned. Another way is to export the picture as a TIFF or PSD to photoshop, Intensify Pro. or onOne or color effects pro etc., do anything you want to do there then reimport to Lightroom and voila, your shadows slider can be adjusted again as much as you could the first time. This doubles your ability to lighten the shadows. I do this all the time.

  6. dr adam 24 January, 2015 at 03:32 Reply

    Actually to save yourself having to export, make the changes in process 2010, just open in Nic or Photoshop and keep lightroom adjustments, make no changes and close; you then end up with the new version with 2010 shadows and can apply normal 2012 processes at will in LR

  7. Ti@go 23 January, 2015 at 21:36 Reply

    As many have said, why export when you can do as many adjustment brushes as you want. Set it at top, and paint everything, and then adjust shadows. OR just the part you want. You can apply as many brushes as you want.

    Also, even if I dont like this method, some may, but, why JPG? Why sRGB??? No, it should be TIFF and in the biggest resolution possible and color space possible. IF not you will have more artifacts. Lightroom uses the biggest color space possible, but you shrink it when exporting, and then you manipulate that shrinked color space. I understand going to srgb when exporting the final picture, but not when you are going to keep processing it.

    But the idea is correct. Get as much as you can in lightroom general panel, and then use other methods to get more, but I would never recommend this method. I would do brushes myself. Some people recommended virtual copies, I will try that, but never export to sRGB and do more process.

  8. Chris 23 January, 2015 at 16:23 Reply

    Two solutions I use in this instance is either (or a combination of both) increasing the Exposure and then decreasing the highlights or use the Adjustment Brush to increase the Exposure and the Shadows of the darker area.

  9. brett maxwell 23 January, 2015 at 13:08 Reply

    I have two alternate ways I would handle this, without creating a new file:

    1) If I’ve maxed out the shadows slider, I would then raise the exposure slider to get the dark tones where I want, and bring back highlights and whites to retain those.

    2) If you want to do it all with the shadows math, you can crank it to 100, then paint the whole image with a large brush (100 flow and density) and crank the shadows on that adjustment. You can then duplicate that brush as many times as necessary to keep amplifying the shadows boost.

  10. Mark Redshaw 23 January, 2015 at 11:05 Reply

    Hi Scott.

    Wouldn’t you be able to achieve the same results by simply painting with the adjustment brush set to +100 (or whatever amount was needed) AFTER you had made a global adjustment to the shadows (like you did), effectively opening up the shadows by twice the amount. I’ve done this before with clarity when +100 wasn’t quite enough, and it seemed to work. I’ve never tried it with the shadows though.

  11. Paul C 23 January, 2015 at 10:19 Reply

    Hi – might it be possible to (alternatively) achieve the result manually on the RAW by judicial pulling on the tone-curve? I wonder, if you could find just the right curves, if it would be possible to save it as high, med & low pseudo-fill-light presets

  12. KC 23 January, 2015 at 10:12 Reply

    Since a majority of the ‘darkness’ is in the doorway closest to the camera, why not use an adjustment brush with a combination of shadow and exposure adjustments?

    Your method seems like an awful lot of work to make a flat, HDR-like image.

  13. Sam 23 January, 2015 at 09:44 Reply

    My thinking is that in addition to the basic panel, one would go to the tone curve and increasing the shadows there as well. Or, one could also add a graduated filter over the entire image, and voila, another slider to increase the exposure/shadows.

    • Petr Klapper 23 January, 2015 at 14:43 Reply

      That’s what I use if needed and most of the time it’s enough, but it has impact with just the first graduated filter so switching process might help someone too (also a bit of the old ‘ugly’ clarity with halos sometimes adds a what foggy/hazy image needs).

    • John Vargas 23 January, 2015 at 18:25 Reply

      Hi Sam – The process you outline works for me as well when processing similar images. It would be interesting to compare with Scott’s workaround to see the difference. As many others have discovered, there are many ways to skin a cat with Lightroom!

  14. Hannes Löhr 23 January, 2015 at 09:00 Reply

    With this picture i firstly would pull the exposure slider to the right. As the histogram indicates the whole picture needs some more light and perhaps the problem will be gone.

    • Paul C 23 January, 2015 at 10:11 Reply

      Hi Hannes – Good point, but I suspect Scott explored that and maybe found it pushed the highlights too far for the highlight recovery slider. These big old churches and cathedrals, with their high windows, are a good example where merging two exposures or using HDR can help, however it is hard to find sufficient times when the foreground isn’t packed with people, and a tripod is rarely practical. I’m really impressed by Scott’s ability to find a time when there was nobody in the shot – he is a master!

  15. Colin T 23 January, 2015 at 08:51 Reply

    Why not just make a virtual copy and change the process to an earlier version? As the basic panel will still change to show sliders which were available in older version! Save creating another file and all that export / importing!!

    • Darius Liktorius 23 January, 2015 at 10:24 Reply

      Scott – To Colin’s point, while you write that the new math is better than the old – wouldn’t you want the RAW image as your source for the Fill Light so that you can recover more true shadow DATA than is available once you have exported to an 8-bit JPEG? Maybe a 16-bit TIFF would be the answer here and may need to be stated. Just thinking out loud. -Darius

  16. Mark Coons 23 January, 2015 at 08:20 Reply

    If I was home I’d try this before asking but I’m not and I’ll probably forget – so I’ll ask. Could you create a virtual copy of the original adjusted image and change the Process of the copy to 2010, rather than exporting/importing?

  17. Paul C 23 January, 2015 at 08:15 Reply

    Great tip, Scott. I have a question for you, though…. how much difference does the original RAW file make in terms of the data it holds? I have a 7-year old DSLR and the highlight/shadow sliders work fine; but when I borrowed a friend’s newer camera it seemed as if the sliders worked much more subtly. I suppose what I’m asking is whether the newer files give the sliders a greater control at the limits or just mode control within for precision? And on from that…. would it help converting to DNG (I guess not)?

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